Few would argue that Gallup was more successful in calling the 2012 presidential election than New York Times polling wunderkind Nate Silver, but a survey released Tuesday indicated the American public still trusts Gallup more.
The survey, conducted by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, showed a plurality of voters, 31 percent, trust Gallup more than Silver. Fourteen percent give the edge to Silver. Perhaps most tellingly, 55 percent of voters surveyed aren’t sure who they trust more.That may speak to the insulated nature of much of American political coverage. While Silver’s forecasts — and, to a broader extent, the polling business in general — became a central focal point during the 2012 horse race, much of the electorate remains unfamiliar with the people and companies involved.
To that end, consider PPP’s other question on Silver, who ascended to star status in many circles for correctly predicting the outcome of the presidential election in all 50 states. The poll showed that 12 percent have a favorable opinion of him, while 10 percent view him unfavorably. But a whopping 77 percent said they aren’t sure about Silver.
Respondents were more familiar with the Gallup poll, long considered a standard-bearer in the data collection arena. Thirty-two percent said they have a favorable opinion of it, while 29 percent who have an unfavorable opinion and 38 percent aren’t sure.
Gallup’s daily tracking poll showed Mitt Romney with consistently wide leads over President Obama in the weeks prior to Election Day. Those results prompted considerable skepticism toward Gallup for its likely voter screen, which critics derided as too biased toward the most enthusiastic voters.
After the president clinched a second term, criticism toward Gallup amplified, with even senior members of the Obama campaign joining the pile-on. A study by Fordham University rated Gallup as one of the least accurate pollsters of the 2012 cycle.
The post-election backlash was enough for Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport to pen a defense of the organization’s polling. In it, Newport took a thinly veiled swipe at the likes of Silver and other polling aggregators:
We have a reverse law of the commons with polls. It’s not easy nor cheap to conduct traditional random sample polls. It’s much easier, cheaper, and mostly less risky to focus on aggregating and analyzing others’ polls. Organizations that traditionally go to the expense and effort to conduct individual polls could, in theory, decide to put their efforts into aggregation and statistical analyses of other people’s polls in the next election cycle and cut out their own polling. If many organizations make this seemingly rational decision, we could quickly be in a situation in which there are fewer and fewer polls left to aggregate and put into statistical models. Many individual rational decisions could result in a loss for the collective interest of those interested in public opinion.